Each year Waringstown man Noel Hayes celebrates August 24 as though it’s his birthday.
Having been given a new lease of life 32 years ago thanks to a kidney transplant, Noel wants to encourage others to register to become an organ donor.
He told the ‘MAIL’: “Each year on August 24 I celebrate, though when I say celebrate, it’s with a certain amount of sadness because someone lost their life in order for me to be able to get a kidney transplant.
“The kidney I received came along with the morning papers from Birmingham.
“It came from an 18-year-old boy who was killed in a motorbike accident.
“I am eternally grateful to this man. By making his organs available after his death he has given me a quality of life I could never have had on a dialysis machine.”
In June 1981, due to ill health, Noel had both his kidneys removed.
He explained: “My kidneys were taken out because they were causing me high blood pressure.
“Every Monday and Thursday from 10am to 8pm I was on a dialysis machine. There’s no real quality of life on dialysis.
“I found I was very tired and cold and I’d an itch in my body that made me uncomfortable. I was so weak and couldn’t do anything about it.
“I was only 30.”
The big problem for Noel and thousands like him was that organ donors were few and far between.
He recalled: “There was a scandal that they were taking organs out of bodies without permission. For two years after that transplants stopped.
“‘That’s Life’ did a feature on a young boy called Ben Hardwick who needed a liver transplant. Esther Rantzen was pushing to get more donors and things started up again thanks to their campaign.
“I was one of only three or four people in Northern Ireland who got transplants because of that.”
He continued: “I’d been on the waiting list since April, my kidneys were removed in June and I got the transplant in August. I was one of the lucky ones.
“I knew one girl in Newry who had to wait 11 years for a transplant.”
He recalled the morning he got the news that a transplant was imminent.
Noel said: “We got a phone call at four in the morning. My wife and I were living in Ardboe Drive at the time.
“By the time I got up and dressed and got to the phone it had rung off. I knew it had to be the hospital and I thought I’d missed the chance.
“Then the phone went again and it was the hospital to say there was the possibility of getting the transplant that day.
“They’ll not say straight out that you’re getting a transplant.”
Noel remembered with great fondness the ambulance that came to collect him from the house: “I was friendly with Tommy Fisher who was an ambulance driver at the time. He told me he’d be there to take me to the hospital for my transplant.
“Sure enough, when I opened the door at 5am there was Tommy waiting with a cigar to take me to the hospital.
“It was so nice to see a friendly face that day. He’d gone to great lengths to be the one who’d take me to hospital.”
It wasn’t all plain sailing for Noel. Just after getting the transplant the new kidney ran into difficulties.
“The kidney nearly killed me,” said Noel.
“The hospital had been trying to contact me after they discovered there was an issue with the kidney but because digits had changed in my phone number they couldn’t get me. The police arrived at the door and told me I had to get to the renal unit as soon as possible.
“They took an x-ray which showed the kidney wasn’t functioning right.
“I remembering lying in the hospital bed shivering with sweat lashing off me. I’d already lost quite a bit of weight and I lost another half a stone on top of that.
“They were going to put me on 40 cortisone tablets a day, but the next morning the doctor told me they’d found a virus.
“They were able to treat that and everything was okay.
“Since then I’ve lived a very normal life.
“There’s people who get a transplant and get the same quality of life as I’ve had. I can’t speak for other people.
“All I know is I’m eternally grateful for the kidney I received.
“I was blessed with a kidney which was almost a perfect match.”
Noel is a fan of football and cricket and thanks to his transplant his love of sport has not waned.
He said: “I’ve been involved in sport for a very long time.
“I’m chairman of Lurgan BB Old Boys and I run the youth team.”
At the time of his transplant Noel was managing Glenavon’s youth team. He is still involved with the club as a match-day steward.
The 62-year-old, who up until recently ran his own box making company, commented: “When August 24 comes around every year I give thanks for the fact someone gave me the chance for a normal life.
“It’s tinged with sadness that someone died to give that life.
“I’ve since become a Christian and I believe that God has been watching over me all the time.”
In encouraging more donors, Noel said: “More donors are needed.
“You can’t assume someone else will do it.
“I would be in support of making people Opt Out of organ donation rather than Opt In.
“The simple fact is donating your organs after death can save someone’s life or improve their quality of life.”